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posted: 1/21/2014 12:40 PM

'Great' friends not so great after all

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Q. Four great friends do a lot together, "Jeanne," "Sophie," "Kaylie" and "Penny." Over time, Sophie constantly "finds faults" with Jeanne and begins to alienate her from the group. Sophie doesn't share this with Jeanne and doesn't want her to know.

Penny and Kaylie tell Jeanne the "faults" Sophie sees. Feelings are that good friends should be able to let you know what "faults" are upsetting you so that you can correct them.

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Sophie leaves the group and no longer wants anything to do with any of the friends.

Now Sophie wants to be friends with Penny and Kaylie, but refuses to be around Jeanne. This puts Penny and Kaylie in an awkward situation. What would you recommend for Jeanne? Walk away from everyone? Avoid Sophie when she is around? Be cordial to Sophie, but no more?

Friends on Sophie's Terms

A. Sophie, Kaylie and Penny frighten Carolyn. (Jeanne just confuses Carolyn a bit with her storytelling.)

Penny and Kaylie are not in an "awkward situation," they're in a decency test and failing it with flying colors. Here's the answer to Sophie that prevents a snake pit: "Join us all, or don't. Up to you."

It's their second F, actually. They earned the first by reporting the "faults" to Jeanne via back-channel, justifying it with a mealy, "Good friends should blank." The A+ answer was, to Sophie: "Whatever problems you have with Jeanne, take up with Jeanne. Stop trashing her to us."

As for Jeanne, it's her call whether any of these friends is worth keeping. If she stays, though, she'd best don skivvies of steel.

Q. My husband's parents are divorced and both remarried. My mother-in-law's husband is wonderful, but my father-in-law's wife is overbearing in every sense of the word. She is also very critical of my husband, me, my sister-in-law and her husband.

When my sister-in-law had a baby, my father-in-law's wife suddenly became even MORE overbearing toward her. What irks me most is that the wife insists on referring to herself as grandma. I don't want my future child to call her grandma, nor do I want her referring to herself that way.

My child will have two wonderful grandmothers, and this woman is not going to be one of them. How can I politely ask her not to expect to be called grandma by my children?

HELP

A. Nothing like riding a stream of contempt for someone, then landing, thump, at a straight-faced request to express this contempt "politely."

You neither can, should, nor have any business trying to, shove The Wife off the grandma shelf. Even if she's every bit as negative as you say, her grandma spot is secured by marriage. Deal with it. Or get ready to explain "politely" that "wonderful" Stepdad can't be Grandpa.

Plus, she might be one more person in your child's corner.

If inspiration eludes you, consider this: The more you push her away, the more overbearing and critical you can expect her to get.

Why? Because those two traits are classic (if obnoxious and counterproductive) self-promotion. They're the tools of people desperate to assert their value. The more value you deny her, the harder her wheels will spin.

Grit out some pleasant engagement instead, including when she gets mean: "I'd appreciate your support, not criticism." Diplomacy, not war.

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2014 The Washington Post

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